Towards the end, as Dublin started taking kickout marks for the first time all night and swishing points at will, James Horan had no aces left to play. His 2020 version of the Mayo football team may have changed plenty in terms of personnel but it has lots in common with earlier models. Still lacking nothing in character, still finding the cupboard all too bare when it comes to panel depth.
Darren Coen's point off the bench made it a grand total of 0-4 from Mayo substitutes for the whole of the 2020 championship. When Dublin can keep Paul Mannion, Brian Howard, Cormac Costello and Colm Basquel back for the minutes that matter, that's never going to get it done.
“We did a lot of things right,” Horan said afterwards. “We were still in it with 12 or 13 minutes to go. But we maybe ran out of juice a little bit and were a bit loose with some of the possession at times. And that cost us.
“Dublin got stronger and stronger as the game went on. Some of their subs made a big difference. I just think maybe we didn’t get the impact that we’d have liked from some of the guys coming on or whatever it was. But some of the subs that came on - Brian Howard, Paul Mannion - they won a lot of primary possession on us. They were dangerous and that had a big impact in the end.”
We have been here before, of course. That’s what makes these encounters such a killer for Mayo. They know they can match stride with Dublin for some of the way. They know that when they put their minds to it, they’re one of probably only two teams who can live at Dublin’s altitude and not feel their eyes pop at the thought of it. But they know too, from long and bitter experience, that they run out of bodies before Dublin run out of artillery.
Problem is, they can never keep enough in the tank to compensate for that disadvantage in the closing quarter. If they somehow managed to get to the last 10 minutes with a decent lead, you could see a scenario where they got through it on will alone. But they’ve never been able to test that theory, primarily because they’ve always given up too many dumb goals at the wrong time.
It’s Mayo’s original sin. Has been since the start of all this. They have appeared in six All-Ireland finals in eight years, including replays. In four of those games, the opposition’s first score has been a goal.
In order: Michael Murphy, 2012, third minute; Kevin McLoughlin own goal, 2016, ninth minute; Con O'Callaghan, 2017, 83 seconds; Dean Rock, 2020, 13 seconds. Three of the six quickest goals in the history of All-Ireland finals have been scored against Mayo, all since 2012.
This is ridiculous. It’s strapping a bag of bricks to your back at the foot of the Alpe d’Huez. It’s doing the Liffey Swim carrying a kettlebell. The fact that they were back level here within a couple of minutes must only make it more maddening for them. They did the same in 2017, responding to O’Callaghan’s goal with the next three points, albeit not as quickly. The idea of equalising before the other team score has been alien to them.
“Yeah look, Dublin are a goal threat on multiple fronts, at any time,” Horan said afterwards. “The first goal was very early, but I thought our response and composure in the first half was very good. Our kickouts and opposition kickouts we did very well, got some good scores.
“We missed a few ones that fell short into the goalies hands, they are a killer. But overall our response to the two goals was very good. I just felt we had a lot of possession. Some of it we lost very cheaply and that cost us in the end.
“But going into the last quarter even there was a point in it at that stage. We were looking in a strong position coming into the water break but Dublin were very good in the last quarter and controlled it well. We had a few rushed shots, there were a few balls bounced around the middle that we could have got, but they got them.”
As for where they go next, onwards is the only option. They can start training for the league in three weeks, Division Two starts at the end of February with Down, Meath and Westmeath for company. The road back feels long this morning but it’s shorter than it’s ever been.
"We can take a huge amount from the season," Horan said. "You saw the performances of Ryan O'Donoghue and Oisín Mullin today, the likes of Eoghan McLaughlin, Tommy Conroy, Jordan Flynn over the season. There's an awful lot of guys who have learned a huge amount in a short space of time. Next year's season will be coming very quickly so we'll have to think about that very soon."